Anti-racist forces in Tennessee say no to Klan, ‘American Renaissance’

Two openly racist gatherings in Tennessee have drawn attention to the fact that racist ideology and practice are alive and well inside the United States. Both sparked large protests.

A Ku Klux Klan rally in downtown Memphis, the largest city in the state, on March 30 was ostensibly held to protest the renaming of three parks that honor the legacy of slavery and the Confederacy. These three parks — called Confederate Soldiers, Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest — have been a source of embarrassment and tension for decades.

Memphis now has a majority African-American population, a Black mayor and other high-ranking officials of color. Pressure has been mounting in recent years to rename the parks. In response to this inevitability, a North Carolina-based section of the Ku Klux Klan applied for and was granted a permit to hold a rally inside the city.

Anti-racist demonstrators in Memphis mobilized over 1,500 people to challenge the Klan. Although the protests against the Klan remained peaceful, with only one reported arrest during the day, the crowd made it clear that the racists were not welcome in the city.

Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest were leading figures in splitting up the U.S. during 1861-65 in that failed war to maintain the economic system of slavery. Davis was president of the Confederate States of America, 11 states that seceded from the Union.

Forrest was a wealthy southerner who earned a fortune trading enslaved Africans during the mid-19th century in Memphis. During the Civil War, Forrest served as a general with the Confederacy, and is said to have been responsible for the infamous Fort Pillow Massacre in southwest Tennessee, in which hundreds of Africans and Union soldiers were slaughtered.

Forrest is also infamous for founding the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee in 1865 after the defeat of the Confederacy. Ever since, the Klan has engaged in terrorism against African Americans and others they deem a threat to their notion of white supremacy.

Protests at white supremacist event in Dickson

In Dickson, in central Tennessee, the so-called American Renaissance group held its annual conference over the weekend of April 5-7. The state of Tennessee denied anti-racists several permit applications to hold mass demonstrations outside the event.

Demonstrations took place anyway and denounced the messages put forward by the racists, who met at Montgomery Bell Park.

This was the second straight year that American Renaissance has gathered at the Dickson park. The list of speakers at the conference included Klan members, neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, anti-immigrant activists and other assorted fascists and racists.

According to Julia Casteel, of Students for a Democratic Society, “It is clear that the state stands solidly on the side of white supremacy. They granted a permit for a known white supremacist terrorist organization, AmRen, to hold their conference and they have repeatedly denied all of our permit requests to protest racist attacks on our park.” (fightbacknews.org, April 4)

These events in Tennessee took place around the 45th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. King had been there to support African-American sanitation workers who were on strike for recognition as a collective bargaining unit with the city.

Despite the existence of an African-American president in the White House and thousands of elected officials of color around the U.S., racism and national oppression appear to be escalating. African Americans and other nationally oppressed communities are disproportionately impacted by the economic crisis through high rates of home foreclosures, evictions and joblessness.

Poverty rates are also rising among the oppressed nations, particularly for women. Police brutality and killings have risen in recent years with high-profile cases of abuse in Maryland, California, New York, Michigan and Ohio.

Inside the U.S., racist organizations function openly and are granted permits to hold rallies and conferences. When anti-racists demonstrate, however, more police attention is focused on suppressing such activity through bureaucratic methods and brute force.

Attention has been focused as well on possible links between the recent murder of a Kaufman County, Texas, district attorney and his spouse and white supremacist prison gangs. These murders follow the killings of an assistant district attorney and a prison administrator earlier this year.

All these officials were reportedly involved in a racketeering investigation that targeted more than 30 members of a white supremacist organization based in the Texas state prisons. One suspect was killed in a shootout with Texas authorities just two days after the murder of the prison official.